Aftersun

Aftersun ★★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

"Don't you ever feel like... you've just done a whole amazing day and then you come home and feel tired and down and... it feels like your organs don't work, they're just tired, and everything is tired. Like you're sinking."

Whew, this was my 4th watch and I'm just now able to actually write an actual review on it. I'm not going to go too into my personal connection with it - but I'll say that while my dad is very much still living, he's no longer in my life and so there is still that connection to the grief and reflection aspect of the film.

If I had to sum up Aftersun in one word it would be haunting . It hasn't left my mind since my first watch. The film centers around a young girl's summer vacation with her father between footage they filmed and her fragmented memories. I still can't believe it's Charlotte Wells' debut, and not just because it's an absolute masterpiece but also how deeply personal it is. It's easy to see how much detail and care went into every aspect of the film - from the casting, screenplay, soundtrack, cinematography, editing, ect.

This whole review is going to be just me singing the praises of everybody involved but I'll start with the writing and editing. The somewhat non-linear format (which we see in how Calum's cast is gone in the opening footage as well as the scenes of Sophie older) perfectly conveys the fragility of childhood memories. My childhood memories are very vivid shots of brief moments and it's difficult to tell in which order things happened, and I think Aftersun nails that combined feeling of almost dream-like nostalgia with the longing that you get as an adult looking back. Another strong point of the writing and editing for me is how through Calum we get this feeling of impending doom building throughout the film. From the combination of careless moments such as Calum walking out in front of a bus, standing on the railing, and walking into a dark abysmal ocean, or the ominous comment on the boat where Calum tells the worker he can't see himself at 40 and never imagined making it to 30, which is followed by Sophie telling the camera that he's diving and he lied to them about his credentials and panning over to show a shot of the still ocean. From the nostalgic childhood perspective that contrasts the dark scenes of adult Sophie with the somber undertone we're able mentally prepare for the climatic scene that breaks us all by all but telling us of Calum's suicide.

The theme of mental health and depression is shown throughout the film, despite it never being directly referenced (other than in the Cleopatra reference in the mud bath scene, which I'll get to) in reference to Calum. We're not told of a diagnosis, we're not shown bottles of pills, we're never blatantly handed any of that. It's all shown by Paul Mescal's ability to play such a vulnerable, softly devastating character (which he also did in Normal People). We see him putting on a face for his daughter who he wants to have a good time, we see the constant exhaustion he's fighting, how he's unable find the energy to continue the karaoke tradition for Sophie, the way he speaks of a foreshortened future, and his reaction to the realization that Sophie is likely going to suffer the same sort of mental health issues he does. With the Cleopatra scene from Sophie, we get the devastating moment where we, the audience, see that Sophie is old enough to comprehend the topic of suicide. And we get that moment WITH Calum - so not only is the audience aware of the fact that Sophie is going to understand what it means when her dad leaves her life, Calum is too.

Another strength of the film is the soundtrack. I can't think of another film that so utilizes it's soundtrack in such a prominent way. Every song is carefully timed to the scene's themes and the song's lyrics being used. The obvious choices I'm going to mention are the use of Losing My Religion and Under Pressure, (but I urge you to look up the lyrics of all the songs in the soundtrack if you haven't yet - because pretty much all of them make it more painful). The use of Losing My Religion being used in a scene where Sophie's idealized version of Calum is being shattered because of his inability to be there for her in that moment is heartbreaking. While there is this innocence to Sophie, there's also moments where we see that while she may not understand exactly what is going on with her dad, she's perceptive enough to know something is wrong. She may not fully grasp it, but she feels his light dimming. She's aware of his financial struggles (and while she snaps at him after this scene, we also see her earlier apologize when losing her goggles because she knows how expensive they were) as well. In this moment, we see Sophie losing her faith, not in God, but in her father. [ I'm choosing my confessions/ trying to keep an eye on you/ like a hurt, lost and blinded fool, / Oh no I've said too much/ I set it up / Consider this the hint of the century / Consider this the slip/ That brought me to my knees .... I thought that I heard you laughing/ I thought that I heard you sing / I think I thought I saw you try / But that was just a dream ]. Now, for the film's painful climax and it's use of Under Pressure. The scene, which shows their last night together, shows Calum dancing playfully with Sophie paired with interruptions of dark, strobing flashes showing Sophie as an adult essentially going through the stages of grief in front of our eyes (from fighting him to hugging him to letting go) until Calum falls into darkness and disappears. [ Sat on the fence but it don't work/ keep comin' up with love but it's so slashed and torn ... love dares you to change our way of / Caring about ourselves /This is our last dance / This is our last dance /This is ourselves / Under pressure ]. This whole scene just.. stays with me.

I've talked a little bit about how much I loved Paul's performance, so I'd like to also take some time to say Frankie Corio is a star. I can't believe this is her first performance. ONE DAY, child actors will actually get recognition and when it happens I'll be fighting for people to talk about this one. I mentioned earlier how in Sophie we see this dichotomy of innocence and awareness, but I'll take it a step further. With Sophie getting glimpses of the darkness in her father, we not only see her understanding in how she watches him, but also moments where she's trying her best to reach out and comfort her father. As a child, when you see your parent struggling, you feel this sense of helplessness because you don't know how to help them out of it. Frankie's performance completely embodies all of that experience.

Aftersun is a true work of art, and I could probably write about it for hours so I'll end this with just listing other aspects of the film and moments that stood out to me:

- Calum telling Sophie about his parents forgetting his birthday and her later getting people to sing to him
- With the story of his parents we also get this element of intergenerational trauma (which if you know me and my love for Bojack Horseman..) and him trying to break that pattern by being there for her and everything, despite knowing what he's going to do at the end of the trip.
- The knowledge that all of this was planned to give her a good final trip with him. He bought the camera for the trip so they could record it and she'd have more than just memories of it. He splurges on an expensive rug as something to pass down to her. He's teaching her self-defense with such severity, because he's not going to be around to protect her. We also see him watching through the footage during the trip, reliving the moments through her eyes, before the trip even ends.
- The fact that the clothes he's wearing when she sees him as an adult are what he was wearing when she last saw him at the airport.
- The mud bath scene where they're talking and he apologizes to her for his actions the night before. It's so very rare to see an adult seriously and genuinely apologize to a child. I don't recall it ever happening in my actual life but I've seen it another film and it stunned me there as well (Moonlight). There's something so refreshing seeing it and I absolutely love it. Because while some adults may be aware of their actions hurting children it is rare that they take the time to communicate that with them instead of just acting like it doesn't matter.
- I am such a fan of slow-burn movies because they let you just sit and simmer in your feelings and what makes me love film so passionately is how they make me feel so that slow-burn will always FUCK ME UP.
- The final shot, holy fuck.

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